Subtlety isn't a quality that dignifies the nominees in this category; typically, the film endowed with the most clanging, banging, and crashing suitable to shake your theater seat prevails. That probably rules out Django Unchained, which, despite its impressive range for bone-crunching and eye-gouging sound effects, doesn't offer enough quantity of sound to count it as a legitimate contender. Also a long shot is Argo, whose sonic palette is distinguished by little outside the opening embassy raid scene and airport finale. Then there's Zero Dark Thirty, which might gain some leverage from its handful of deafening explosions, courtesy of Paul N.J. Ottosson, who picked up both sound categories in 2009 for The Hurt Locker. Alas, Zero Dark Thirty is a more modest effort than The Hurt Locker in terms of sound and can probably be counted out of this year's race, unless, that is, voters are feeling guilty about completely shutting out Kathryn Bigelow's film.
If those three films are the category's B level, then Skyfall and Life of Pi are sufficiently busy and loud enough to count as its heavyweights. Skyfall may be lighter on traditional high-flying action than we'd expect from a Bond film, but it could very well take the award for its opening scene alone, which features enough crowd noises, zooming motors, gunfire, and general demolition to fill an entire movie. Plus, the sight of Daniel Craig adjusting his cufflinks proves a great companion to the humming symphony of destruction on the soundtrack as the train splits behind him. But no matter how impressive Skyfall's traditional action sound effects may be, it's Life of Pi's richly varied and novel soundscape that may prove too much for voters to resist. The interplay of animal noises with the constant movement of the ocean and the creaking oak of the Pi's lifeboat is impressive, but the real key to Life of Pi's strong audio profile is the ship-sinking set piece, wherein the fluid horror of the scene is conveyed as much by the sound effects as the visual spectacle.
Will Win: Life of Pi
Could Win: Skyfall
Should Win: Life of Pi